St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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Passiontide - April 2006

There are two types of pain - physical pain in the tissues of the body, and heartache or emotional pain. We don't like pain, of either sort, because it hurts, and we try to avoid it at all costs. But physical pain is sometimes very useful. If you prick your finger on a thorn, we get a warning not to put our whole hand into the thorn bush. If we put our hand too close to the fire, we get a warning not to go closer. Physical pain can also warn us of more serious illnesses, perhaps giving us early warning of something that can be healed if caught soon enough. Dying nearly always involves physical pain, and that is one reason why we fear death. Thank God that medical science has developed drugs that can alleviate the pain of dying.

Emotional pain is quite another matter and is caused by many things. We experience heartache when someone whom we love is suffering pain. We grieve terribly when a child of ours dies at a young age. We suffer greatly when we are the undeserving victims of injustice. We ask God why does he allow these things to happen. And when we don't understand that God's ways are often different from our ways, we begin to lose our faith. But, you know, God has given us no guarantees about length of life. We know from experience that some people die young - this is just the way it is. We might wish it were different, but it isn't. We cannot explain it adequately, but, like Job, we can come to accept it and not to rail against God when it happens.

Much suffering is the direct consequence of sin - human disobedience to the will of God. But God has given humans free will and they can choose to reject his will and to commit sin. This was the risk that God took when he created humankind and gave them freedom to choose, and suffering is the inevitable consequence of this. But don't you think this was a risk worth taking? We don't have to choose sin, we can choose the way of God, we can choose to love rather than to hurt, and we have the freedom to do this. How much better this is then being God's puppet on a string.

Passiontide is the two-week period between the Fifth Sunday in Lent and Easter Day. It is a time when we remember and reflect upon the sufferings of Christ. Christ died young. He was only thirty something. He was cruelly tortured by the Romans and put to death by crucifixion. Physical pain, with very little analgesia, which he bore manfully for us. He also suffered emotional pain. We see this in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he contemplated the physical pain in from of him. He suffered rejection by everyone, including his closest friends who ran away and denied knowing him. As he hung dying on the cross, he cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me". These are harrowing words, expressing the utter loneliness that he was experiencing, feeling deserted even by God.

Thus Jesus suffered and he is with us every time we suffer, whether it be physical pain or heartache. By his suffering, his unjust suffering, he paid the entire ransom price for us so that we may be forgiven for all the sin in our lives. Sin, which we can shelve in no other way, but onto the shoulders of Jesus.

Passiontide is a time for us to come to God through Jesus, to seek forgiveness and to give thanks for what Christ has done for us.

You can read the story of Christ's Passion in the Gospel according to St Matthew, chapters 26 and 27. This is not the end of the story, but we shall wait until Easter Day for the sequel.